Thursday, 29 January 2009

So... who started it? an update on vids.

Short and sweet, here's a couple of vids found by Plastic Fuzz which I think look pretty good and give a good indication to which side wanted the fight, especially the guy in the second video who says "we're trying to get to the Israeli Ambassador and they're protecting him, so that's why it's kicking off" If you follow the links at the bottom of the video when it finishes, there are loads more from the 10th now.

First one.

With no hint of irony, given that accelerant was thrown at the Police officers on the gate, here's the second vid to the relaxing theme tune "Firestarter"
1.49-1.53 was my serial.


Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Meet the new Boss, much the same as the old one.

Contrary to what Sky's Martin Brunt thought when he said that Sir Ian Blair's resignation would cause a drop in morale throughout the Met, on the afternoon he announced he was leaving I've never seen so many people in the canteen talking about him with smiles on their faces. The next day a skipper I know said "it's great news isn't it, if the Met canteens had a laugh-o-meter in them, they would have blown up yesterday afternoon"

So now that the "PC PC" has finally gone, Sir Paul Stephenson is going to be the new Commissioner of the Metropolis. I've never met him and I probably never will, unless something goes horribly wrong somewhere, and the most I'll see of his new direction and 'leadership' will be a weekly podcast on the Intranet that I won't watch. We may get some policy directions that will be changed by countless levels of chinese whispers, so by the time they get to us they will do nothing but serve the needs of the borough Commander or the divisional Superintendent to make sure they get their year end bonus for meeting targets and budgets.

Sir Ian Blair set the direction of the Met as Commissioner but it was Sir Paul Stephenson who actually ran things from an operational perspective. Whilst I'm well aware that there are things Sir Ian wanted and everyone was required to do, here's a few things I am certain that we won't get in the immediate to near future -

(1) a doubling of the number of response officers actually deployable for every team, on every division and borough in the Met.

(2) a doubling of the number of response vehicles and vans (that actually work and don't break down all the bloody time) to accommodate the influx of officers back to response and the significant increase in prisoners that will result.

(3) the opportunity for response officers to actually proactively patrol and engage with the public because the vast majority of the bullshit calls we are sent to have been cancelled because we shouldn't even be going to them, or they are significantly downgraded to the level they should be in comparison to an actual emergency.

(4) Taser.

(5) someone with any substantial rank standing in front of the news cameras immediately after a substantial event to give the people the information that WE had at the time, even if we are being criticised by people (including family) who have no idea what actually happened.

(6) someone who will tell the Home office to get rid of the National Crime Recording Standards and to stop trying to micromanage how we work.

(7) the complete return of discretion, in line with the office of Constable, instead of directed policy.

(8) specific targeting and extreme harassment of each divisions top 50 criminals until they are locked away, move out of London, or kill themselves.

(9) the return of local knowledge to control rooms by basing them in divisions and alongside teams instead of in 3 remote bases staffed by people who rotate daily, haven't got a scooby which road is where, who is who, where our borders end or what specialist teams exist to deal with specific things. This won't mean much to anyone outside of the Met, but to those in, it will mean everything.

I'll be more than happy if I'm proved wrong on any of those points, but after yet another knackering nights weekend of mayhem, close calls and not enough people to deal with it, I'm a tad pessimistic that anything will change for the better.


Update - some quotes from the Boss -

“Ian Blair did it his way. I was a loyal deputy. Now I am going to do it my way”

“One of the key issues is keeping the communities on board to give us a mandate to go in there and use some pretty intrusive tactics to stop kids killing kids.”

"We have to be intolerant of violence, no matter where that violence comes from"

"It is my aim to be a top-class police leader of the biggest police force in the UK and one of the best in the world." Interesting he used the words Police force instead of Police service, it's not something Sir Ian Blair ever said, which is a good start.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Is peaceful protest possible?

Of course it is. I've worked on loads of demos over the last few years ranging from calls for life to mean life, children's charities, anti war, anti capitalism etc and only a very small number have ever deteriorated to the stage of people being arrested, and even less turning into large scale public disorder. The vast majority have been attended by dozens to hundreds of people, and even a couple where a few thousand have turned up and there have been no incidents or problems. Compared to last week at the Israeli Embassy, I can attest that the 'flash mob' protest at Heathrow Terminal 5 was a considerably more jovial affair.

As usual the differences on numbers were wide apart, 500 from the organisers, 250 for the official Police estimates, from where I was standing we estimated the number to be around 350. The protest was reported by some media outlets as creating 'chaos' at the airport but it was anything of the sort - there was an area set by for the protest to be held in, security at the terminal was out in force and we had plenty of level 3 officers and a couple of level 2 serials to prevent anything getting out of hand.

We were briefed that BAA had actually given permission for a protest to be held within the terminal, contrary to existing legislation, which made things considerably easier for us to plan around. An area was set aside by the airport staff (which wasn't used eventually), level 3 officers were patrolling the terminal and the level 2's were in place behind the security access to the departure lounge. If the protestors got through us there, the terminal would have been shut down and we would be looking at a 'search to contact' of the entire terminal (and possibly even 'airside' which would have been an absolute nightmare) and every nook and cranny until everyone who wasn't supposed to be there was accounted for and removed. As we did that, the airport would be shut down which is why there is specific legislation prohibiting demonstrations within airports.

It was a gesture of 'goodwill' by BAA to allow the demo to go ahead but if it went wrong, the disruption would have been enormous to both passengers and the airport, and a number of people (including some of our senior officers) would have been out of a job by the late afternoon. A point which we were made aware of and reminded constantly about in the run up to our deployment!!

We were told to expect the demonstrators around 12 noon, and that they would be there for between 15-90 minutes, depending on how many turn up and how emotive they are. From where we were at the departure lounge entrance we could see a few people in the distinctive red t-shirts underneath coats milling around, the vast majority seemed to be women and children. There were a few men around but it seemed to be more of a family atmosphere to everything and not in the slightest bit hostile. When the time came all the coats came off and the crowd that had gathered near the main exit began jumping around and singing, there was quite a bit of jeering and throwing red balloons and sponges around, and at one point a few people got half-nekid and did the congo. All in all, a reasonably loud, relaxed and very friendly demonstration

After a few more songs and chants the group started to thin out quite quickly after about 30 minutes, by 45 minutes they had all gone. Once the bosses were happy that the demonstrators had left or that there was no threat (from them anyway) of a security breach, we were stood down. We waited for redeployment to central London to assist with the anticipated demonstration at Trafalgar Square but as there were only a couple of thousand people there we were 'dismissed with thanks' and headed back to go home.

I spoke to a mate who was at the demo as we headed back to our nick, "I've seen a few of the knobbers who kicked off with us last week, but apart from that there's hardly anyone. Most of them are loud but alright, looks like loads have stayed away because it kicked off so badly last time" I got a text from him not long after I left to go home "as expected, a few have kicked off, going to be a long one, laters"

And so, as expected -


Daily Mail

Ealing Times

FIT Watch


Yahoo News


Sunday, 11 January 2009

So.... who started it?

Around 100-120k people marched yesterday. We were briefed that the public order branch expected, and had been told the plan had been arranged for around 15-20k, despite it being all over the media and sites like Indymedia that around 100k were due to turn up. The estimates on numbers are usually somewhere between the Police ones (invariably considerably less than there actually are) and the organisers who seriously ramp up the turn out. On this occasion however, the front of the march reached the embassy as the back had not long left Hyde Park, a distance of just under 1.5 miles, and it was packed, literally building line to building line across 4 lanes of road. We were told (at around 3pm) the official Police estimate was 20-25k, which was complete and utter bollocks. There were a hell of a lot of people, at the front end were families and old people, at the back were mostly young males.

As usual we had been told that our role was to facilitate the lawful demonstration and that we were effectively 'community Policing' unless the situation changed and things became violent. Crucially, we were told that despite the fact that nearly every march relating to the Gaza/Israel situation had experienced violence, this was not sufficient evidence to suggest that THIS march would become violent. As such, because the senior officers are so afraid of offending the wrong people, we were NOT in possession of riot helmets or shields which were left on the carriers, although we all were in our protective gear and coveralls under the yellow jackets. We were wearing our normal everyday beat helmets and to say some were not happy about that would be a slight understatement.

Unlike at football matches where fixtures are given categories to judge the expected level of violence based on previous experience (A = virtually nil, C+ something like Millwall v Chelsea, Rangers v Celtic etc) these aren't used at demos, which is why we have FIT - forward intelligence teams - who identify specific individuals based on known previous history, in order to judge the expected level of hostility.

My serial was one of the several dozen at the front of the march. The organisers had loads of volunteer stewards whose job was supposed to be to facilitate the movement of the march although they were all as emotionally involved with the march as everyone else there. They were organised at the front in three separate ranks, with the 'celeb' marchers in between the 1st and 2nd, and the rest of the march behind the 3rd. Not long after we set off a group of about a hundred young males broke through their own stewards and sprinted off towards the Police serials at the head of the march. After some negotiation with the stewards, they agreed (eventually) to rejoin the march behind the stewards and celebs. Our serials at the front were stretched out along the sides of the march, with a couple of officers every 50-10o meters or so.

Things were pretty peaceful for the whole length of the Bayswater Road and although very emotive, there was quite a bit of banter between the Police officers and the demonstrators and things stayed that way despite the massive numbers until the head of the march got to the North Gate of Kensington Gardens. Inside were a couple of PSU's on the other side of the gate, and as we passed there was nothing more than a bit of shoe throwing and jeering. We carried on down towards the front entrance to the Embassy and our end stayed pretty much the same. All of a sudden we heard calls from one of our other serials that dozens of people tried to break through the gates to get to the embassy and were climbing the fencing, throwing anything to hand, throwing burning flags at the gate and that they needed more units to help out. Within seconds we heard the call that no police officer wants to hear "more units now, urgent assistance, we're under attack, officer down"

What had started as a several dozen turned into a hundred or so and the officers were being attacked with missiles including glass bottles, balloons filled with paint, scaffolding clips and metal poles, and a couple had been dragged into the crowd and were beaten to the floor. One officer was knocked unconscious by a scaffolding pole, two received really bad facial injuries and the other officers (male and female) were kicked and punched repeatedly until a couple of PSU's managed to get to them. At the time we were not allowed to wear our protective helmets and were still marching towards the Embassy.

Not long after we got to the Embassy gates the crowd stopped to shout and jeer at the gates (as they can't get close to the Embassy itself) and there was a bit of banner and shoe throwing. From where we were the crowd couldn't see the gates and all they knew was that they had stopped. Immediately they blamed us and lots of people were asking us "why have you stopped us marching?" It's a simple fact of numbers, 100,000 people won't fit down a street at the best of times, let alone when the head of the group has stopped because they wanted to demonstrate, we hadn't blocked anyone in at that point.

Within a couple of minutes we received the order to get our shields and helmets from the carriers after the extent of the attack and injuries received by the officers at the North Gate was fed back to the commanders. Because of the scale of the march, at least half the demonstrators hadn't seen any Police presence and to see a few of us here and there trying to get our kit gave them more than enough opportunity to shout abuse and thrown coins, cans, bottles etc as we tried to make our way through. The RVP point for the vans was changed because of the hostility we were getting to make it easier to get kitted up without having to walk half a mile or so up the road through a predominately (at that point) hostile crowd.

We got back to our posts near the front of the march to be told that a couple of shops opposite the embassy had been attacked and ransacked and that protestors had been seen stealing bottles and knives which were distributed through the crowd and subsequently thrown at the officers at the front gate. We were then informed by a serial at the gate that they had had several bottles of accelerant thrown at them which failed to ignite. At that point PSU's were brought in to contain the crowd which did effectively block them in, the hope being that they would dissipate out the other end. The confrontation became even more violent, demonstrators destroyed the fencing that was keeping the pavements clear for the shops and emergency evac units, and some of the fencing was used as a barricade to stop the Police PSU's from getting into the crowd to arrest people, specifically those from last weeks demo who had been recognised by the intelligence teams.

We then used filter cordons to try and dissipate the crowds to get the vast majority of people out of the area, this consists of a couple of ranks of officers with people still able to pass through. The people responsible for destroying the shops and throwing the missiles/accelerants were still in the crowd outside the embassy so they were contained. When information about the cordons started feeding back into the crowd a number of demonstrators tried to break out and were using anything and everything to attack the officers on the cordons, including the barriers themselves.

As the violence increased, our escalation increased, and for the first time in almost 8 years (in the Met) full deployment of longshield units was authorised, it was probably around 8pm at that point. Short of watercannon, rubber bullets and teargas, this is the highest state of force we can use in a public order situation and the decision to authorise it was not taken lightly, because it is so obviously aggressive.

Over the next several hours we had to use more cordons to force back crowds that had gathered on all sides to dissipate them as some (but not all by a long shot as there were a lot of normal demonstrators mixed in with them) of the group contained in the embassy continued attacking officers, vehicles, property, horses etc. We kept the cordons in as the protestors were taken out of the embassy cordon section individually where they were videoed for evidential purposes (to check against CCTV later) and searched for any items taken from the stores, they were then allowed to leave. As the number of people in the contained area shrunk we were able to move the cordons in further which released more officers to assist in searching so the whole group could dissipate quicker. Our cordons and teams were eventually taken down around half ten, having been in place from around four when it first started kicking off outside the embassy.

Here are a couple of vids already on youtube, make of them what you will.

The march along Bayswater Road and then Kensington High Street, just down from the embassy after we were ordered to get our full protective gear and shields.

At the gates of the embassy, note the bloke singing "all Police are pigs, lets kill coppers" which was pretty much the order of the day from the majority of the people attacking officers.

missiles being thrown and fencing used as barricades.


Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Burning Flags

On one of the demos I worked on the other day the topic of flag burning was raised during the initial briefing, in response to the huge number of people in Trafalgar Square on Saturday holding a veritable bonfire before they started off towards the Israeli Embassy. At present in the UK, flag burning is not a specific offence in criminal law and there is case law that states simply burning a flag isn't enough to charge or convict for racial incitement of violence or to charge or convict for any public order act offence. The high court decided that the act of burning a flag was nothing more than destruction of personal property, if the person doing the burning owned the flag.

A couple of years ago some officers from ACPO suggested making flag burning a specific offence in order to prevent groups deliberately causing extreme offence to others and unnecessarily escalating demonstrations into violent conflict. There are always going to be people at demos who will try and provoke other people or have a go at the Police to get some 'good' images on Indymedia, and they really don't care how they go about it. I've worked on plenty of demonstrations that have been rather pleasant and perfectly legal, as well as a few others where a minority have been there to do nothing but start a fight.

Personally, I find flag burning extremely offensive. It's more than just a piece of cloth with dye on it, it's a symbol of identity and history and burning it is intended to cause offence and intimidate people into reacting. I've been at demos where some people do it just because it's the 'in thing' to do and they don't care or can't understand why some people are extremely offended, because they (by their own admission) don't care about their own country, flag, its meaning or its history.

A couple of the demonstrations over the last couple of days have been extremely heated but ultimately peaceful, and even as the thousands of people rallied around speakers they didn't get the flags out to set them on fire and they all (for the most part) dispersed afterwards without any incident. The longer the trouble in the Middle East carries on, the longer the demos about it over here are going to continue. Most will be passionate but peaceful, others will be violent. The large demo on Saturday turned pretty ugly after the protestors left Trafalgar Square and Police officers were pelted with bottles, bricks, banners and anything else to hand until it was later brought under control.

After the unbelievable indecisiveness by senior officers at the Notting Hill carnival this year to relieve untrained and unprotected Level 3 officers with properly equipped and trained L2 or L1 officers after they were subject to sustained attacks with bottles and bricks (and were literally begging for additional assistance and support) it was actually quite refreshing to hear a ground commander on the radio pull the officers out and send in the specialist riot teams of the TSG along with L2's within a few minutes of everything going pear shaped. I've no doubt one of the commanders taking a direct hit to his own head influenced the speed of the decision making.

With more demos planned for the foreseeable future including advertised rallies of the same nature on Saturday and Sunday, we're going to have some interesting days ahead in the Capital, along with the usual day to day Policing requirements and requests from the public!

After 12-15,000 people had a relatively peaceful if somewhat heated demo in Trafalgar Square, here's what happened when most of them decided to march to the embassy via Pall Mall and St James's Street -

This vid was footage after it kicked off from around Kensington Gardens -

And yes, those officers on core response teams were still answering 999 calls, despite having had most of their public order trained officers stripped from normal team strength for the day!


Friday, 2 January 2009

Animal Police

Due to some unfortunate business in the Middle East having ramifications over here I'm not going to be around for a few days, so in lieu of a proper post here is a vid I saw on TV which I think you'll find amusing!